AEGEE members love to travel. The math is simple: The cheaper you can go, the more events you can visit. And hitchhiking is for free. However, money is not the main motivation for many AEGEE hitchhikers. It’s also the spirit of freedom and adventure that many people love. One of them is Mateusz Gierczak, former President of AEGEE-Kraków.
Golden Times: When and between which cities did you hitchhike for the first time in your life?
Mateusz Gierczak: It was in March 2014, a few months after I joined AEGEE. Three other AEGEEans and I were a bit tipsy after our weekly meeting in Kraków and in the middle of the night, we decided to hitchhike on the spot — to Berlin.
GT: Impressive! To which AEGEE event did you hitchhike for the first time?
Mateusz: It was in April 2014. We were going with Kuba Tomaszewski to Agora Patra. It took us nine days, but we visited Budapest, Belgrade, Thessaloniki and Meteora on our way. So let’s say we spent five days on the road and made almost 2000 kilometres!
GT: How many times have you hitchhiked so far with AEGEE?
Mateusz (smiles): It’s hard to calculate. Something between four and eight times, but from that time I started hitchhiking also beyond AEGEE. I was counting that few months ago and I made around 15,000 kilometres since that time and met more than 100 kind drivers.
GT: Why do you hitchhike?
Mateusz: There are three reasons. The first is adventure, because it’s incredible what crazy situations you can get into while hitchhiking. You can ride in a bus with a music band from Pécs or in the open cart in the Bosnian mountains. You can sleep in a tent — or without — in the middle of nowhere or on the playground near to the exit road from Vienna. It’s total freedom. You can go wherever and whenever you want and think only about the most important things: how to survive and get from one place to another.
GT: What’s the second reason?
Mateusz: The people you meet. During such travels you don’t have a professional guide who will tell you things you can find in any book about German or Serbian history. Instead of that you get plenty of different opinions and perspectives of drivers who take you, on topics that you are really interested in. And you never know, maybe you meet some friend of you on the way, like we did at 3 a.m. in the centre of Belgrade or on the main station in Venice. It is incredible how many coincidences happen during hitchhiking.
GT: What’s the third reason?
Mateusz: The last and the least is of course money. If you are student, probably you are not the richest person in the world. And tickets can cost a fortune. I know a lot of people who don’t travel, because they think they don’t have money for it. I thought the same five years ago. Two years later I spent one month hitchhiking around the Balkans. The cost? 150 Euros. Seriously.
GT: What’s the most interesting story you can tell about your AEGEE hitchhiking adventures?
Mateusz: I had really many of them, but one I consider as most incredible. It was during that trip to Patra in 2014. Around 48 hours before the Opening Ceremony of Agora Patra, Kuba and I arrived to Thessaloniki. We did not have such a long road ahead, only 470 kilometres to go, but next day we wanted to visit the Meteora monasteries. So we decided to wake up at 6 a.m. and go directly to the exit route, to be there at 9 a.m. We found a host in Patra, who was one of the organisers of the pre-event in Thessaloniki, so we went for a party with him. We came back at 5 a.m. When we finally got to the highway it was 1 p.m.
We just stepped on the highway with our written sign, held above our heads. After 15 seconds a Turkish truck driver stopped, who didn’t understand too much but knew the name of the city. We were super happy! And tired… So after five minutes we fell asleep. We woke up, looked on the map and noticed that one minute ago we missed our highway exit! We jumped off 10 kilometres further and realised that we were in the middle of mountains. It was windy, cold and started raining. What is more, the traffic was terrible — only maximum three cars per minute in our direction. I wrote „10 km” on the cardboard and begged drivers to stop — after five minutes, when it started raining, I even fell on my knees. Kuba ran to the nearest building, asking anyone to give us a ride of 10 kilometres for money. In that moment a car stopped. Renault Kangoo — without any seats in the back, only one in the front. I asked if I can go with my friend if he sits on the floor in the back. The driver agreed, but asked: “Where is he?” He saw him 300 meters away from the highway.
„Oh no, I don’t have time to wait for him”
„Please, I beg you, we’re gonna die here! Just wait few seconds!”
My face was super serious so he agreed. Kuba saw us and I haven’t seen him any time later running so fast. We were saved. But still it was around 4 p.m. and we hadn’t even reached Meteora and the monasteries where open only till 6 p.m.
GT: Oh no… so what happened next?
Mateusz: After a few minutes talking, it turned out that our driver was going directly through Kalambaka — the city we wanted to reach! We were so lucky! We arrived there, near to some square just after 5 p.m. It was too late so we wanted only to see the monasteries, even from the outside. But we needed to find any camping there before, where we could rent a tent as well — yeah, we didn’t have it… We went to the square and wanted to ask people about that. There was a German guy, who noticed us and asked if he can help us. It turned out that he was here on the way for holidays with his Bulgarian girlfriend and her sister and they were also looking for a camping. They had a car so they took as to the nearest camping.
What happened when we were waiting for the camping staff? He did not only tell us that they could lend us one of their tents because they had two of them. He said more. But let me quote that conversation:
Me: So where do you go next?
Kliment: We plan to visit the monasteries tomorrow and the next day we go to the island Zakynthos.
Me: Ah, the island. So which way do you go there?
Kliment: We go through Ioannina, Ambrakia, Patra and Varda.
Me: Wait, wait. You said „Patra”? Are you going to Patra?
Me: The event where we are going to is in Patra… Can you maybe give us a lift, somewhere on that road?
Kliment looked back to his girlfriend, who was sitting squeezed between her sister and Kuba. I saw the moment of doubt on her face.
Kliment: Yeah, sure, we can get you to Patra…
Mateusz: Can you imagine? Even though we overslept twice during that day, we had so much luck to be three times in the right place, in the right time and meet the right people. That’s why I love hitchhiking. We ate dinner together, tried some specialities from Bulgaria, drank some alcohol. Next day, we visited three incredible monasteries without rushing and on the afternoon departed to Patra. At 10 p.m. we got off the car, just in the front of our gym. It was just incredible. Curtains. Thank you for reading it!
GT: Do you have a favourite hitchhiking partner — and why?
Mateusz: Actually not, but when I am hitchhiking with my girlfriend, we have quite good results. We haven’t waited longer than 20 or 30 minutes till now.
GT: Where you ever scared or did you feel uncomfortable during hitchhiking?
Mateusz: Once. My friend and I were going from Croatia through Slovenia to Hungary. We caught a truck — but of course there is only one place to sit there, so we suggested, one of us will cross the border on foot. The driver said three times that there would be no problem, cause he knows officers there. Of course he got a fine and we had to get off. He told us he will wait for us on the other side of the border but he didn’t. So we had to go around 10 kilometres on foot. But that’s all actually.
GT: What’s your best practical advice towards people who never hitchhiked before and would like to try?
Mateusz: Always have a sign with the written name of the city, smile and try to look like a trustworthy person. Remember that a driver has only a few seconds when he notices you, to trust you and stop. Check also hitchwiki.org!
GT: Anything you would like to add?
Mateusz: Do it. Really. There is nothing to be scared of and there are hundreds of adventures to experience.